Women’s draw a lottery
The absence of five-times champion Serena Williams and unconvincing early-season form of the world's top two players has reduced the Australian Open women's event to a tennis lottery.
The absence of five-times champion Serena Williams and unconvincing early-season form of the world’s top two players has reduced the Australian Open women’s event to a tennis lottery.
Supermum Kim Clijsters could confidently claim to be holding the winning ticket after beginning 2011 in the very same way she ended 2010 – in dominant fashion.
While world No.1 Caroline Wozniacki, second-ranked Vera Zvonareva and seven-times major champion Venus Williams will all launch their title quests without an official match win this summer, Clijsters’ hot streak continued with a series of one-sided victories at the Sydney International.
“I feel good. I feel fit,” the reigning US Open champion said.
Clijsters, with her husband Brian and two-year-old daughter Jada in tow this trip, crowned her stellar 2010 with victory over Wozniacki in the WTA Championship final in Doha.
The Belgian inflicted more pain on Wozniacki in a New Year’s Day exhibition event in Thailand before the Dane’s woes continued with a 6-0 6-1 thrashing at the hands of Zvonareva in a non-tour outing in Hong Kong and first-up loss in Sydney.
Only three women in the last quarter of a century – multiple major winners Martina Hingis (1998), Jennifer Capriati (2002) and Amelie Mauresmo (2004) – have lost their first match in Sydney and gone on to reign a fortnight later in Melbourne.
“I’ll be good for Melbourne,” Wozniacki said.
“I’m feeling confident; I’m feeling good.”
The 20-year-old is the youngest year-end No.1 since Hingis in 2000 but, along with Dinara Safina and Jelena Jankovic, Wozniacki is also one of only three women ever to hold down the top spot without winning a grand slam crown.
That unwanted place in history only adds to the pressure.
Zvonareva also bombed out in Sydney and claimed to be equally unconcerned.
“I can really raise the level of my game for the Australian Open,” the Russian said.
“I always believe in myself that I can be up there. I always try to look forward.
“I made the final of Wimbledon and I made the final of US Open. That’s great. Great experience.”
With titleholder Serena not appearing, Justine Henin (2006) and Maria Sharapova (2008) are the only former champions in the draw.
But both former world No.1s are on the comeback trail from injury and some way off their grand slam-winning best form.
The door is indeed ajar for the likes of Australian ace Samantha Stosur, talented Belarussian Victoria Azarenka or Chinese trailblazer Li Na to break into the elite major winners’ club.
“I would like to think (I can win it). I’m going to go in there thinking I can,” Stosur said.
“But there’s a long way from thinking you can do it and playing a first round to holding the trophy at the end.”
“Yeah, it’s a great feeling.”
While Stosur looms as Australia’s only legitimate title contender, she has a healthy 14-strong support cast led by 2005 men’s runner-up and perennial flagbearer Lleyton Hewitt.
Set for his 15th Open campaign, Hewitt believes an gruelling off-season training regime has him in the best physical condition for his home grand slam event in years.
At the mercy of the draw and even with a lowly ranking of No.54 in the world, the unseeded Hewitt insists he can still make a second-week charge.
“I’m not too worried about most guys out there. Same as when I was 18 or 19 and world No.1,” he said.
“I’m still excited about going out there and determined to do well.”
The 29-year-old father-of-three opted for a fresh approach to this year’s Open, contesting the Hopman Cup and Kooyong Classic exhibition events instead of the Sydney International.
“I was guaranteed six extremely tough matches against quality players, which is important for me coming off a couple of injuries,” Hewitt said.
Hewitt is Australia’s only direct entrant in the 128-man Open draw, but Marinko Matosevic, Carsten Ball, Matthew Ebden, Peter Luczak and teenage star Bernard Tomic all have wildcard entry.
Jarmila Groth, the world No.42 with a bullet, is also full of belief that she can follow Stosur into the second week after upstaging the Australian No.1 at the season-opening Brisbane International.
Anastasia Rodionova, Alicia Molik, Jelena Dokic, Sally Peers, Sophie Ferguson and Open wildcard playoff winner Olivia Rogowska complete Australia’s 15-strong representation in the tournament.